Sunday, December 7, 2008
Bees and the infant Ambrose
Saint Ambrose –whose feast is today – is justifiably famous for many things: his eloquence, his suppression of the Arian heresy, his pedagogical friendship with Saint Augustine, and causing the imperious Emperor Theodosius to repent his sins (the massacre over 7000 persons), but these are the not the reasons I mention him today.
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Doctor of the Church, is the patron saint of beekeepers, bees and wax-workers.
According to legend the infant Ambrose, peacefully rocking in his cradle in Trier, Germany, was stung by a bee on the lip. He did not cry out; instead, he became one of the great orators of the age, known for his "honeyed speech”.
Another variation on the legend has it that a bee flew over and let fall a drop of honey onto the babe’s lips.
Both are fine stories, and while it is good to have friends in high places, any beekeeper knows how unlikely are both scenarios. In the first place, honeybees rarely sting unless threatened or defending the hive. In the second place, honeybees do not fly around carrying honey. They carry pollen and nectar to the hive and there, inside the perfect honeycomb cells, the honey is made.
Another variation on the legend has it that a swarm of bees alighted on the face of the infant Ambrose and left behind the honey of eloquence. This seems somewhat more feasible as swarming bees could be carrying honey and who know, maybe they thought this cradle would make a fine new hive?